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Pride’s Pain

Like so many, I was shocked this week by the news of sexual abuse allegations at Penn State University. We certainly do not know all the facts yet but we have all had been faced with a sober reminder that when pride gets involved in our lives, anything is possible and it will turn out bad. Pride is, and always has been, the primary culprit in life. In Isaiah 14, we learn that pride turned Lucifer (a stunning angel) into the Devil. “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God.’” (v. 12-13) Everyday we see the devastating impact of pride on the lives of good men and women.
The defensive coach at Penn State started to believe he was above the rules as he allowed his passions to carry him away. He was obviously a very disciplined man or he would never have been able to handle the demands of coordinating the defense at one of the premier programs in the country. He concluded, however, that he didn’t need that same discipline in his personal life. Pride blinded him to the damage he was creating.
The administration of the school, for reasons we will never understand, failed to take action. These are highly intelligent, extremely capable men. They operate one of the finest institutions of higher learning the world has ever seen. The academics are outstanding. Their sports program is focused and successful. Their reputation has been attracting high-caliber students for decades. Pride, however, blinded them to the right course of action. It isn’t even that hard to figure out. When allegations of sexual abuse involving children are involved, you act quickly and you defer to the kids. They certainly did not want to assume guilt before the facts but this kind of allegation has the potential to ruin everything if not handled decisively and transparently. They know this and yet they tried to act covertly and secretly. Wisdom didn’t tell them to do this. Common decency didn’t tell them to do this. Only pride thinks this way.
Finally, Joe Paterno, one of the finest coaches in the history of football, failed to grasp the urgency of the situation. He has a history of dealing with highly competitive, strong-willed, testosterone filled warriors. For 61 years at Penn State he has been creating men of character who think and live like champions. He has challenged them, pushed them, corrected them, pulled out talent in them, honed their skills and focused their efforts. He knew how to win and instill the will to win. He has coached more teams to more victories than anyone else in the game by taking care of business when it needed to be taken care of. And then this.
For some reason, he couldn’t see clearly how to handle an obvious situation. He did report the allegations to his Athletic Director, which is admirable, but he didn’t check back. A man who had lived by strategic priorities didn’t check back. A man who spent a lifetime figuring out the steps young men needed to take to reach their potential, didn’t check back. A man who instructed others to take care of business, didn’t check back. We will never understand all the reasons for his lack of action but we do know that pride makes even the best of us blind to common sense solutions. And he will pay a high price.
The story of a stunning career that spanned six decades will never be told without including a scandal that might just overshadow everything he accomplished. I still respect him for his achievements but I am soberly reminded that it only takes a little pride to crumble an empire.
Lord, let me be so impressed with you that I can I resist the temptation to be impressed with myself.

7 Responses

  1. Everyone in this entire country now knows about the Penn State scandal. Ask someone, “Did you hear about what happened at Penn State?” and they’ll say, “Yeah! What happened with Paterno?!?”

    I find it remarkable – and more than a little disturbing and disconcerting – that there is so much attention and focus being placed on Joe Paterno and what he DIDN’T do, vs. the man who actually perpetrated and apparently repeatedly carried out the actual crime of sexual abuse. Does anyone even know his name?!? Does anyone even know what he stands accused of (besides generally, “sexual abuse”)?

    The vast majority of people (including me! had to Google it!) can’t even tell you the name of the guy who’s THE actual criminal in all of this! The one that who’s directly responsible for the sexual abuse! His name didn’t even make your blog. But Paterno’s did.

    It’s Jerry Sandusky, by the way. Remember that, everyone. Please.

    Why?!? Because it’s what the MEDIA HAS CHOSEN TO REPORT, and put their formidable focus upon. Why?!? 2 reasons: 1), First and foremost (and let’s be perfectly clear and honest about this), because bringing down a rock star sells far more papers, clicks, views, etc. than some no-name guy, and 2), the story will resonate with more people, and last longer – which means they sell far more papers, clicks, views, etc.

    Get it?

    So much focus and attention has been placed on the “Wins” and “Losses”, the winning seasons (including 5 unbeaten!), the 2 national championships (which should’ve been +2 more)… But very little has been mentioned about the (literally) thousands of young men whose lives and characters he forever shaped so positively, positioning them to “win” in their lives as men and leaders because of the values and character that he taught them, modeled for them and shaped and molded in them – both on and off the field. You see, football was only one aspect and element of how Paterno impacted his sphere of influence around him – the young men going through his program.

    Paterno was a frequent speaker on ethics in sports, the self-appointed conscience for a world often infiltrated by scandal and shady characters. He made sure his players went to class. If they didn’t, they didn’t play. Period. As of 2011, Penn State has had 49 academic All-Americans — 47 under Paterno — the third-highest total among FBS institutions. The team’s graduation rates are consistently ranked among the best in the Big Ten. In 2010, Penn State’s 84% rate trailed only Northwestern’s 95%.

    Many of his kids – in the past several days – have stated publicly that he was as much a father figure to most of them as a coach.

    “He teaches us about really just growing up and being a man,” former linebacker Paul Posluszny, now with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, once said. “Besides the football, he’s preparing us to be good men in life.”

    I’m not defending Paterno for his lack of appropriate and responsible action and follow-up in this case. After 60+ years, he knew better, and knew what to do. And, after all, we are held responsible and accountable for that which we choose NOT to do, with equal weight and gravity as that which we DO.

    But there’s something wrong with this picture. Something missing. This equation is not balanced. Einstein would not sleep or rest with this on his chalkboard.

    I’m just sayin’… This is yet ANOTHER case of the American media run completely amok and focusing on the wrong thing and the wrong person (remember when we called them “journalists” and “the press”? Those names and titles represented something, a devout allegiance and oath to independence and seeking the truth, which resulted in REPORTING the news (the ACTUAL, REAL news) vs. “making” the news… and a commensurate respect from the American people in the nobility of the occupation. Wow, how far THEY’VE fallen, because of THEIR OWN pride!).

    “This is a tragedy,” Paterno said in an earlier statement, when he said he would quit at the end of the season (right before they called him up on the phone and fired him). “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”

    Do you think he’s got any remorse?!? Yes, that’s a pretty hefty weight – a veritable millstone around his neck – that he’ll have to carry with him throughout his retirement and the rest of his life. Not because the guy got caught, but because Paterno loves his kids so much. It should be enough that Joe Paterno was not even allowed to retire early, but instead fired – in humiliation, over the phone, of all things, after 62 years of loyal, dedicated, devoted service! – in shame, and that his long-built legacy of excellence that he built with blood, sweat and tears (and NO apologies necessary and very few infractions or rule-breaking violations) will now forever be tainted by this one incident, the actions of one man, ironically someone other than him.

    Because of what he didn’t do.

    Now THERE’S a blog topic for you, Bill. We are held responsible and accountable for what we don’t do, just as much as we are for what we do. The consequences are equally dire, the penalties just as stiff. Biblical examples: Aaron. David. King Saul. Saul (Paul). Peter. Pontius Pilate. I’m sure lots of others.

  2. Hey Scott,
    Thanks for your well thougth out and well researched comments. I think you just wrote the “Becasue of what we didn’t do” blog post!

    I didn’t mention Sandusky because he will be the focus of another post. I am just deeply grieved over the impact this is having on coach Paterno. It was personal to me how a man of great achievement can become so marred by one situation done by others so I wanted to start my comments with him.

    Keep up the good fight.

  3. Great thoughts Bill, I am reminded of Chesterton
    “Pride juggles with her toppling towers, they strike the sun and cease. But the firm feet of humility, they grip the ground like trees.”

    In our greatest accomplisments and heroism, we are all equally capeable off cowardice. The Paterno story is a sober reminder to all of us in Leadership that even the greatest of leaders are highly capeable of mortally wounding their organization with a little pride and poor decision making.

  4. Sandusky and Paterno demonstrate the principles of the book Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership. Effective leaders but without confrontation of potential failures – great lessons for us!

  5. You likely won’t post this comment… but you speak of what was going through the minds of these men as if you have special access to them.

    You don’t. Like everyone, you speculate based on what we are given a glimpse into. Tread carefully before claiming you know what others are thinking and their motives behind what they did or did not do.

    Only God knows the intentions of the heart.

    Yes, the actions were evil… and they will be held accountable for those. But let’s not join in the mudslinging. We should all take note and do a pride-check on a daily basis.

    Your prayer is bang-on. “Lord, let me be so impressed with you that I can I resist the temptation to be impressed with myself.”

    • Thanks for sharing your insights. Situations like these get all of our attention and force us to respond in some way. I believe interaction helps us all put in perspective how we should live in a troubled and challenging world. I appreciate your words of wisdom and warning to not judge the intentions of the heart since only God can truly see what is going on inside. At the same time, we must all make conclusions about our own convictions and make decisions about how we will react when we face tough situations. My comments were much more of a reminder to me of the responsibility of leadership than it was a commentary on the internal issues of those invovled. Leadership is hard and requires tough choices. I iknow from years of pastoral experince that the individual issues of the people involved are deeply personal and intensely complicated. The leadership issues, however in my opinion, tend to be more straightforward even though they can be hard to implement. This is why leaders are held to a higher standard. It is tough stuff to wade through which is why I appreciate you weighiing in. My closing prayer really is the attitude I strive to have and I have been praying it daily as I grieve with all those who are affected.

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